Thoughts from Louisville's 80-77 win over rival Kentucky:
Overview: Midway through the first half, Kentucky and Louisville were locked in a give-and-take battle. Chane Behanan attacked Kentucky’s young post players, and Peyton Siva connected on open 3s from outside. The Wildcats relied on a similar attack with Ryan Harrow and Nerlens Noel penetrating in the first half. And then Louisville began to pressure and Kentucky began to unravel. Turnovers, bad shots and poor passing seemed to doom the Wildcats as Louisville ultimately amassed a 17-point lead in the first five minutes of the second half. But Kyle Wiltjer helped the Wildcats stay alive late with a string of 3-pointers. With just under seven minutes to go, Louisville’s advantage was just four points. The Wildcats were within two points in the final six minutes, as Gorgui Dieng, Smith and Siva played with four fouls each. But the Cardinals were more efficient at the free throw line in the final minutes. Willie Cauley-Stein played tough the entire night, but he missed his four free throw attempts. And he wasn’t alone. With 49.8 seconds to go, Kentucky had the ball down 75-70, but the Wildcats just couldn’t close the gap. Still, Kentucky stayed alive until the end, making this a great chapter in the rivalry.
Turning Point: Louisville's quick start in the second half appeared to be the most significant turn of events of the afternoon. It helped the Cardinals build a big lead against a young Kentucky team. But with 14:33 to play, Wiltjer hit a 3-pointer and then another. It forced Louisville’s defense to shift in ways it hadn’t in the first half as Kentucky finally had a perimeter threat that couldn’t be ignored. A 51-37 Louisville lead was squeezed down to 63-59 advantage with 6:16 remaining. Wiltjer’s shots started the rally.
Key Player: Russ Smith is named Russdiculous for a reason. When Louisville needed a bucket, especially as Kentucky closed the gap, Smith raced down the floor at 100 mph and gave it one or drew a foul. He finished the game with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. He played the final 10 minutes of the game with four fouls. Behanan shares the honor with Smith. He was a terror Saturday (20 points, 7 rebounds).
Key Stat: Kentucky’s challenges at the free throw line limited its chances of pulling off the upset. The Wildcats were 11-for-23 at the charity stripe. That’s how the Wildcats really lost their opportunity for a full turnaround.
Miscellaneous: Foul trouble for Louisville's Dieng, Siva and Smith was a key factor in Kentucky’s comeback. The three players were back together in the final five minutes, which definitely helped Louisville preserve the win. … When John Calipari picked up a technical early in the first half, it rattled the Wildcats. Four consecutive Kentucky turnovers followed. … Dieng did not start but finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks as his parents watched him play for the first time after traveling from Senegal.
Up Next: Louisville will face Providence in its Big East opener Wednesday in Louisville. Kentucky will face Eastern Michigan on Wednesday in Lexington.